By DAN KARELL
As soon as Didier Drogba entered the match, the tides turned in the Ivory Coast’s favor.
The Ivory Coast scored twice in three minutes following Drogba’s introduction to overcome a one-goal deficit and open their World Cup campaign with a 2-1 victory over Japan on Saturday night at the Arena Pernambuco in Recife. Both Ivory Coast goals came from terrific crosses by young right back Serge Aurier.
Played during a steady downpour, Japan were the team who looked most dangerous in the first half, though Ivory Coast had their chances as well. However, Japan made their best chance in the first half count with a goal.
Ivory Coast fell asleep during a throw in, allowing Yuta Nagamoto space along the left wing to survey his options. Nagatomo picked out talismanic midfielder Keisuke Honda just outside the box with a square ball. Honda sensed a defender approaching, took his first touch into the box and ahead of the defender, before sending a perfect left-footed strike into the upper 90.
The Elephants had a couple of free kick opportunities in the first half to tie the score, but Arthur Boka and Yaya Toure put their shots over the bar.
In the second half, the signs began to point in the direction of the Africans, as Japan began to struggle to hold on to the ball as easily as they did in the first half.
However, the turning point of the match came in the 62nd minute, with the introduction of Drogba for midfielder Die Serey in the 62nd minute. The move freed up Wilfried Bony up top and forced Japan’s defense to keep their eye on Drogba. Two minutes later, the Ivory Coast took full advantage of the tactical switch.
Aurier was played a ball on the right side and whipped in a fizzing cross towards the penalty spot. Bony was the quickest to react and the Swansea City forward met the cross at the near post and redirected it past Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to tie the match at 1-1.
Another two minutes later, Ivory Coast struck again. Aurier sent in another cross from the right and this time it was Gervinho who headed home at the near post past Kawashima to put the Elephants ahead for good.
Though they needed a goal, Japan seemed to have run out of energy and were unable to keep up with the physical and fast Ivory Coast side, letting the Elephants cruise to victory.